Sunday, July 02, 2017

Into the Great Wide Open: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Make for a Fun Night at the Friendly Confines -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
w/opening act Chris Stapleton
Wrigley Field, Chicago
June 29, 2017

Let me quickly get this out of the way, so as not to harp on it.

"Breakdown," "Listen to Her Heart," "I Need to Know," "Don't Do Me Like That," "Even the Losers," "Here Comes My Girl," "Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)," "Century City," "The Waiting," "A Thing About You," "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," "Change of Heart," "Straight Into Darkness," "A One Story Town," "Southern Accents," "Rebels," "Jammin' Me," "Runaway Trains."

That's a list of 19 Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers songs not played Thursday night at Wrigley Field, nor for the most part any of the previous 6 times I'd seen them since 1999. (I also saw them in 1981--my first concert ever--and 1989.)

As all of these are songs I love, I would have relished hearing any of them dusted off, frankly in lieu of several of the 19 tunes that were played at the first concert ever held at the home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs. (Not the first ever at Wrigley; figure it out.)

This reflects my common complaint about Petty in concert: He tends to stick to the same basic script every time, preferring his work from 1989 forward and many of the same mid-tempo choices ("Mary Jane's Last Dance," "You Don't Know How It Feels," "I Won't Back Down," "Learning to Fly," etc.; see the Wrigley setlist here).

And while entirely gracious in thanking the crowd after nearly every song, in his inability to deviate from form he never mentioned the rain freely falling during the show's first half, failed to thank his stellar opening act, Chris Stapleton, and--though he did don a jersey for the 2-song encore--didn't mention the Cubs.

Alas, substantially shaking things up or offering the type of venue-specific spontaneity that might make a Wrigley show feel unique from, say, arena shows in Ohio--I dreamed of a "The Waiting" and "Even the Losers" twosome dedicated to the home team that won its first title in 108 years, but neither was played--isn't what Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers do.

Given that this is billed as their "40th Anniversary Tour"--though the band's eponymous debut album came out in 1976--I've had plenty of time to get used to Mr. Petty's proclivities.

And while I'd agree that it seems some somewhat dense to bitch about it repeatedly, it isn't merely that I wish he would play some different songs from his deep catalog--maybe just swapping one or two surprises into each show--I truly believe his concerts would be better for it.

Not shockingly, my review of the TP&HBs' 2014 show at United Center--when 12 of the same songs were played--struck a similar note, as would have those in 2008, 2006, 2003, 2001 & 1999 had I been writing regularly.

But now that I'm done with my petty grousing about what one of my favorite singers didn't play, do or say, the truth is that he and his erstwhile band were pretty darn great within the Friendly Confines, even rocking out most impressively on some setlist choices I would've readily excised ("It's Good to Be King," "I Should Have Known It.")

So not only does Tom Petty--47 years after he formed Mudcrutch with guitarist Mike Campbell and, soon, pianist Benmont Tench, both still Heartbreakers--have every right to play whatever the heck he wants to, it can be well-argued that he knows what his current fans want to hear far better than me.

In fact, when he did reach back for an old hit he claimed not to have played for 30 years before this tour--"You Got Lucky"--it seemed the fans around us rejoiced in it far less than for "Learning to Fly."

Though I believe my consistent kvetching has some validity, I really do love Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers--and have ever since first hearing "Refugee" and the Damn the Torpedoes album in 1979.

So in my favorite place on earth, alongside two of my closest friends, on a night when it rained but never too hard--following my frantically driving through a deluge the night before, and closing out a month of outdoor shows in which I got completely lucky weatherwise--preceded by an excellent opening act (though Chris Stapleton was a bit hard to fully appreciate through heavier rain), and having been quite classily granted much better seats upon complaining that our ticketed spot was blocked by a speaker, it was rather joyous to sing along with "Free Fallin'," "Into the Great Wide Open," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Yer So Bad" and "Runnin' Down a Dream." (Along with Campbell, Tench, bassist Ron Blair, drummer Steve Ferrone and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston, it was nice to see the Heartbreakers augmented by background vocalists, The Webb Sisters, who I recalled having done likewise for the late Leonard Cohen.)

Rather aptly, the show began with the first song off Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers--"Rockin' Around (With You)"--and ended with the last, "American Girl," which led perfectly into fireworks and the 4th of July holiday weekend.

Sure, I would've preferred if the first encore song "You Wreck Me"--which I've heard in the same slot at most prior gigs--gave way to "The Waiting," "Even the Losers," "Don't Do Me Like That," "I Need to Know," etc., etc., but I can't deny it rocked.

I think it's pretty clear that Tom Petty will never fully satisfy me, live, but also that he doesn't have to.

For his sake or mine.

Now 66, Petty has supposedly suggested this might be the last major tour for the Heartbreakers.

But even if I presumably will never hear them play "A Thing About You" or "Change of Heart," I hope to have the chance to see them again.

That's how good they remain, as proven yet again on a wet and wonderful night at Wrigley Field.



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